by Ben Taylor
Tanzania’s most decorated public servant and diplomat, Paul Rupia, has died at the age of 84.
Ambassador Rupia was born in July 1938 in Shinyanga region, the son of John Rupia, a prominent independence activist, politician and businessman. His journey in public service began in 1963 when he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He served as Tanzania’s envoy to various countries including the United Kingdom 1968-1970, permanent representative to the United Nations (UN), Tanzanian representative in Council of Ministers and summit meetings of Organization of African Unity, and Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Between 1986 and 1995, Rupia served as Tanzania’s fifth Chief Secretary – the most senior role in the civil service – serving under President Ali Hassan Mwinyi. Speaking at his funeral, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said that the government recognises the great contribution made by the late ambassador Paul Rupia during his service and even after his retirement.

Retired Prime Minister Judge Joseph Warioba said that the late Ambassador Rupia had contributed significantly to the economic reform in the country during his time in office, and that he had started the process of political reform that led to adoption of the multi-party system in the country.

Professor Kim Monroe Howell, a distinguished Professor of Zoology at the University of Dar es Salaam, has died at the age of 77. Born in the United States in 1945, he moved to Tanzania in 1970 after a brief time in Zambia, becoming a prominent zoologist and conservationist.

Prof Howell’s research, consultancy, teaching and supervision of students at the University spanned almost 50 years. He joined the Department of Zoology and Marine Biology at the University in 1970, earned his PhD in 1976, and remained a prominent figure even after his official retirement in 2016. Among his significant academic contributions was the discovery of several amphibians, including the Kihansi Spray Toad Nectophrynoides asperginis, the bat Rhinolophus maendeleo, and many other mammal species new to science. At least three species were given his name – the gecko Lygodactylus kimhowelli, as well as a bird and a shrew. His major field of research was biodiversity inventory, ecology and conservation of mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles of eastern Africa.

Prof Howell’s publications include A Field Guide to East African Reptiles and Pocket Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of East Africa, as well as over 90 scientific papers, 7 books and 18 book chapters. Howell’s big find came in 1996 when he discovered a small toad at the base of a waterfall in the Udzungwa Mountains above Kilombero valley. The Kihansi spray toad, believed to inhabit the smallest native habitat of any vertebrate on earth – a two-hectare spray zone around that specific waterfall – became the focus of a highly controversial conservation effort, a clash between biodiversity conservation and Tanzania’s need for economic development.

“I’ve often said I wish I had never discovered the toad,” reflected Howell. “I felt it had to be a species new to science because I knew all the other ones in Tanzania,” he said. The consequences of a planned new hydropower project were immediately clear, he noted: it would become extinct. What followed was a lengthy dispute involving the World Bank and other financiers of the planned hydropower dam at the site, Friends of the Earth and other conservation groups and the Government of Tanzania. Efforts to protect the toad on site were unsuccessful, and a captive breeding programme was controversial and expensive. Are these toads really more important than providing electricity to our people, asked the politicians.

Leading researcher on hunter-gatherer and egalitarian societies, James Woodburn (1934-2022), has died.

Having first studied History at Cambridge University in the 1950s, Woodburn returned to the university after his national service to study for a BA in Archaeology and Anthropology. He conducted fieldwork in (then) Tanganyika, graduating in 1964 with a thesis entitled Social organisation of the Hadza of North Tanganyika.

The Hadza remained his long-term field project. In the late 1960s he collected Hadza material culture for the Horniman Museum in London and in 1970 he published Hunters and Gatherers: The Material Culture of the nomadic Hadza.

He taught at the London School of Economics for many years, remained a keen participant in the scholarly enterprise long after retirement, and was an honorary member of the International Society of Hunter-Gatherer Research.

Daudi Peterson, an expert in Tanzanian hunter-gatherer societies said that Woodburn “almost certainly knew the Hadza and their society better than any other non-Hadza. More importantly, he cared deeply about them as individuals and as a group… When the Hadza were informed of his death,” he explained, “they collectively gathered honey and brought it on a two-day journey to Arusha as a tribute to a man they considered one of them.”

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